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Most people’s first taste of the Migos was probably the disorienting drug dealer slapstick of “Versace” or “Hannah Montana,” the wild hits from the Atlanta rap trio’s breakthrough 2013 mixtape, YRN (young rich niggas). But if you followed hip-hop closely during those years, your intro might have been the “RIP” of the same project, more thoughtful and purposeful, where the band mourned the murder of Freebandz associate OG Double D and explained what was at stake if rapping didn’t turn out like a career. The trio worried aloud for safety and mortality, with Quavo opening up about his father’s death and Takeoff going through grief and boastfulness before landing on paranoia: “I know they’re after me, but I won’t let them capture me / And every day and night I pray that they won’t chain me. The Migos could do cartoonish absurdism and stressed realism, and were instrumental in changing attitudes towards the trap in years when audiences weren’t as open-minded as they were. is now. It shows how 2022 is a melting pot that we even potentially have to talk about in the past tense as we mourn the passing of Takeoff, the 28-year-old band member who was fatally shot this week in Houston.
It was a family band: Quavo is Offset’s cousin and Takeoff’s uncle. They had the chemistry that people who grew up together did, and the schism involved in Offset’s recent lawsuit against the band’s label Quality Control Music over ownership of his solo catalog (highlighted by Quavo and Takeoff dropping the album Unc & Phew Designed for Infinity Links only without him) did not seem to be able to last indefinitely. They were guys who saw each other during the holidays. “His mom took care of everything, including us,” Quavo recalled in a 2013 Molten interview. “We always stayed in the same house.” The rap was Takeoff’s idea. Art imitated life; the Migo that put the band together was the glue, the one that held a song together and the fulcrum of Quavo’s hook-man/front-man tendencies and Offset’s laser focus to impress you with his mastery of tricky syllables rested on . Takeoff could do all of that or play the field while you show off. Many of his greatest verses are located near the end of a long song. (That’s why it really never made sense that he was left out of “Bad and Boujee.”) He went second-to-last on Drake’s “Trophies” remix and got it. fade: Smoking good marijuana in Mexico, call it kitane / I try to fuck myself with a Rihanna. This is Takeoff’s place on the Culture bruiser album “Deadz” which brings home the heavy thing, its perfect timing and punchy saying: “Niggas debating, they hating, they plotting, they waiting / They want my ice cream, tell ’em come get it / If them people told me I couldn’t do it / Now I’m doing out-of-state shows in the nations Put it on pole and it crashes On “All Good”, from 2014 Rich Nigga Timeline mixtape, Takeoff complained of arousing the angst of a disturbing significant other who “talks about I treat her like Macaulay Culkin because she stays home alone.” Elsewhere, he resolves to take her to Miami and keep her by his side like a machine gun, leaning on the scarface thing but also by counterbalancing it with humour.
It was smart stuff, undeniable evidence of fine craftsmanship, but it mystified many people who came to music looking for a pronounced moral compass. A track like “Contraband” — “Narcotic, narcotic, narcotic” — upsets a certain type, people who listen to rap lyrics hearing how other sets of ears might receive them, who worry about the ability to distinguish between real and deliberately hyperreal violence. For this contingent, Takeoff joking about beating pots like Bernard Hopkins, Winky Wright, Adrien Broner or Mike Tyson sold harmful suggestions to impressionable fans. If you think music should be a service of delivering uplifting messages, you struggle with bando talk because it doesn’t explicitly tell you that dealing drugs can be a terrifying line of work. Migos songs made you aware of the loot and toils the lifestyle can entail, but left you to your own devices as an action movie depicts its hero exuding rough, jagged morality from a lack of options. Culture“Brown Paper Bag” goes there: “Never look at my past, sip slow and live fast / I finished first but I swore a nigga started last / I was born empty-handed but a nigga knew I had to get a bag / I was raised by my mama so a nigga never really had a dad.
They are guides, not models – arrests, altercations and civil lawsuits have made these a hard sell. But black artists deserve to be allowed to tell grim stories without moralizing young listeners, to address adult themes in art aimed specifically at adult audiences. We can implore rappers to be more attentive to the messages they convey. We can’t expect them to parent everyone within earshot, and we must have more to offer fans mourning influential figures in the community than icy, judgmental distance. Rappers are in danger if gun violence took off during a game of dice, and Young Dolph was fatally shot after a trip to the cookie store, and Trouble couldn’t relax at home undisturbed. And if we hold these tragedies, alongside the deaths of PnB Rock and Pop Smoke, as proof of a soullessness at the heart of the hip-hop community, we serve it up to actors who have no interest in the culture beyond the means they can use it to pathologize and criminalize black youth and their interests. Turning violence in hip-hop into a story of abdicated personal responsibility, pointing to rap as a source of toxic worldviews and criminal activity rather than a megaphone to amplify pre-existing positions and schisms, tells people who have a vested interest in public safety but don’t care about the future of hip-hop as a lifestyle you stop crime by keeping rappers out of business, and excluding young black people from incredible opportunities career is not a solution to the problem of children who lack opportunities and positive influences.
You have every right to dream of more uplifting music in this precarious moment, to call on artists to calm down on their records and social media posts. But we can’t flatten the art, stepping over the aspiration threads in a rapper’s work to highlight only the dirt they’re doing or discussing. (Yes, Takeoff wields the Draco on Culture“T-shirt”. He also brings up religion and civic duties: “I’ll feed my family, nigga, there’s no getting around it / I’ll never let go, nigga, God said show my talent.”) We gotta deal this problem as if it were bigger than hip-hop. In a climate of growing wealth disparities, sectarian violence and mass murder, where even routine shootings can’t sway our national leaders to legislate gun reform, it’s foolish to beg pardon from twenty-something rappers that our elected officials can’t bother to post. It’s a recipe for inertia.
Treating the loss of Takeoff as a victim of violent rap chickens coming home to roost distorts the image of who he was, best seen in the giddy pal raps and warm family memories of recent Takeoff tracks. and Offset as “Two Infinity Links”: “Before the cake, before the scene, we shared honey buns / 5:30, mom house, we were all sons / 85 NAWF where we all from.” They seem certain that they will spend the rest of their lives sharing these experiences. It’s something beyond shocking that tragedy strikes even Migos, that band that brought impressive comedic timing and infectious triplet streams to the pop charts, and forced rap listeners in fair weather and old heads dedicated to enjoying the craft. The takeoff will be missed. One of the great rap trios will never be the same again. But inside the abundance of records he left behind, Takeoff still shines, all green diamonds on his neck, looking like the Riddler. We just have to consult it now.